Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don't Overlook This New Children's Book

  • Book: The Donkey That No One Could Ride
  • Author: Anthony DeStefano
  • Illustrator: Richard Cowdrey
  • Genre: Children’s Picture Book
  • Publisher: Harvest House
What makes a good children’s book is not where one is focused only on the child audience. A good book is one that is not obnoxious, non-preachy and has well-written prose that parents will enjoy reading it to their children over and over again.
Author Anthony DeStefano
“The Donkey That No One Could Ride” is an Easter-themed story that can be read all year round. It is written by Anthony DeStefano with prose that resembles Dr. Seuss’ works or even, “The Night Before Christmas.” While centered on Palm Sunday, the story is more about one of encouragement to children and adults alike.
The book focuses on verse Luke 19:30, “…You will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden.” The verse could refer to a donkey that is so wild that it hasn’t yet been tamed, but DeStefano chooses to portray this donkey as one who is small and weak instead. The donkey, with no name, wants to be important but can’t see beyond himself. In the story he meets Jesus who makes the donkey strong, emphasizing our need for Jesus as well. A page of the story goes like this:
Then Jesus said to the donkey,
“It’s time that you knew
About the great thing
That you’re destined to do...”
He hears the sad donkey cry,
 “Just leave me alone and cast me aside.

Artist Richard Cowdrey

 I’m just a poor donkey that no one can ride.”
"Donkey" is as simple as it is profound. The book is illustrated by New York Times bestselling artist, Richard Cowdrey. The colorful illustrations compliment the story well and resemble art from the old Golden Books that many of us have grown up with.
To learn more about the author and illustrator, click on the slideshow. To get a sneak-peak of the book, click on the video below. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

You Don't Need a Magic Mirror to Tell You That This Movie is Good

Julia Roberts and Lily Collins star in Relativity Media´s 
Mirror Mirror. Photo Credit: Jan Thijs.

One of the unique things about Grimm fairy tales is that over the years, there are dozens of different versions of the same story. Most of us have been raised on the Disney cartoon “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and in many minds; it is the only “correct” version of the story. However, if you can tear yourself away from that theory, you are bound to enjoy the new re-telling of the story, “Mirror, Mirror.” It follows the basic story line of Snow White losing her father at a young age and being raised by her evil stepmother. It also features seven dwarfs, a prince, a magic mirror and a poisoned apple, but each is told in a different way. Oh, and there is a mysterious and deadly beast in the forest.

The movie opens with the beautiful, yet evil, queen (Julia Roberts) telling the story of Snow White from her own point of view. Ms. Roberts is wonderful in this role and you can truly see that she enjoyed every minute of playing the part. She is incredibly condescending and cruel. Lily Collins (The Blind Side), still fairly unknown, was also an inspired choice. (In fact, according to IMDB, Lily was originally slated to play the role in the “Snow White and the Huntsman,” but lost the role to Kristen Stewart.) Her character is full of dreams but is also quite frail since her stepmother isn’t capable of loving her. She also hasn’t left the palace since her father was alive.

Soon, we meet Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is attacked by a band of bandits – seven dwarfs. This is an interesting twist to the story. Instead of diamond-seeking miners, the dwarfs are considered outcasts because of their “ugliness.” In order to survive, they must steal from others. The prince manages to find his way to the castle, in his underwear, to ask for help. The queen, who has just learned that she is bankrupted, plans to marry the prince and live off his money. And why not? She’s done that five times before. “No matter how many times I do it, I still get so excited on my wedding day,” she chirps in one scene.

Meanwhile, Snow is taken away from the palace and left to die, but discovers the home of the dwarfs where they take pity on her and teach her their ninja-like moves.

Rounding out the cast is Nathan Lane as Brighton, the queen’s right hand man, Mare Winningham as Baker Margeret and a “paler” version of Julia Roberts plays the magic mirror.

“Mirror” is a movie that they whole family can see. It is rated PG for some cartoon-type violence, but that is it. It isn’t too scary for little ones and isn’t too slap-sticky for their parents. It isn’t a musical, but it does have a Bollywood ending during the credits where Collins sings, “I Believe in Love.” This isn’t surprising coming from the daughter of Phil Collins.

“Mirror” has a few nice messages in it. For one, magic takes a backseat. It is frowned upon while working through something the hard way is applauded. It also can be used as a lesson that there are consequences to your actions; even if you are the queen. Feminists will be happy to see that Snow White isn’t completely helpless and learns how to fight like a man. Anti-feminists will be happy to see that Snow doesn’t rescue the prince, but that they both save each other.

“Mirror” is colorful and beautiful to look at and is sure to become a classic. Even an evil queen would approve. The most surprising thing about this movie is who wrote it. Jason Keller, known for writing the screenplay for “Machine Gun Preacher” also wrote the script to this one!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

‘October Baby’ is a Surprise Hit

John Scheider stars in "October Baby."

By now you’ve probably heard that Lionsgate film, “The Hunger Games” not only came in first place for top movie sales for the week of March 25, but that it won by a landslide. “The Hunger Games” made $155 million over the weekend with “21 Jump Street” a distant second with only $21.3. But what you may not have heard was that “October Baby,” the little film that could, came in number eight for the weekend. Its little amount of $1.7 million may seem small compared to the big guys, but consider these facts:

  • According to Box Office Mojo, “The Hunger Games” opened in about 10 times as many theaters as the 390 theaters for “October Baby.”
  • “October Baby” was ranked number one for limited-release movies.
  • Promotion for “October Baby” was mainly done through word-of-mouth.
In support of its life-affirming theme, “Baby” producers have assigned 10 percent of the film’s profits to the Every Life Is Beautiful Fund. The money will be distributed to organizations helping women face crisis pregnancies, to life-affirming adoption agencies and agencies caring for orphans.

 Another surprise, at least to the Jon Erwin, Co-Director and Co-Writer of the film, was that it has quickly become a “lightning rod” for those for and against abortion. “We never aimed to make a political film or villainize anyone, only to humanize—to tell a person’s story,” Erwin said of the film. “The point was never to give answers but to ask penetrating questions and to start conversations; from all we’re hearing, October Baby hits its mark.”

“October Baby” is about a 19-year-old woman who not only discovers that she has been adopted, but that she is also a survivor of a botched abortion. “October Baby” may be the most important film I’ve ever been in,” says actor John Scheider who plays a father in the film. The cast also includes Jasmine Guy and newcomers Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

‘Salmon Fishing’ is a Great Date Movie

The sheik (Amr Waked) and Dr. Alfred Jones
(Ewan McGregor) enjoy some fly-fishing during their
first meeting. (Credit: CBS Films)

With all the hoopla over the excitement of “The Hunger Games” coming out this weekend, very little attention has been given to another film also just arriving in theaters: “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” This intelligent comedy is by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Slumdog Millionaire, “Simon Beaufoy and the director of “Chocolate,” Lasse Hallstrom and it is worth swimming upstream for.

The unbelievable yet charming film begins with a visionary sheik (Amr Waked) wanting to bring fishing into the dessert. The man has a lot of cash burning holes in his robes, so if the project could be successful, he can fund it. His representative, Harriet (Emily Blunt), is all over this project and quickly recruits Britain’s leading fisheries expert, Dr. Alfred Jones, (Ewan McGregor) for help. He initially doesn’t believe that it can be possible, but is given a nice salary to try anyway.

Meanwhile, the sheik is being criticized for wanting to waste his money on something so frivolous – just so he can go fly-fishing in his own backyard, but he has a bigger vision for the fish. It is in his faith that ultimately helps Jones to come around on the project. Finally, The Prime Minister’s press secretary, Patricia Maxwell, (Kristin Scott Thomas) is desperately seeking a good will story and latches onto this project as well.

Besides the main storyline, Alfred and Harriet have their own stories, making this a well-rounded film. Alfred is an uptight man of science and it is enjoyable seeing his character loosen up and embrace a life of faith instead. Waked, not well-known to American audiences, (he played an uncredited role in last year’s “Contagion”), is inspiring as a visionary who seems to know his’ guests better than they know themselves. Thomas is a hoot as the press secretary who shows an amazing knack for being in control all of the time in both her professional and family lives. (Her poor children!)

Unfortunately, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” has had very little publicity and probably will come and go without many seeing it, which is a shame. It features two of the biggest stars right now, follows the story of two people becoming great friends before falling in love, beautiful scenery and genuine laughs. It’s not too gushy for men and not too outdoorsy for women. Its biggest drawback is its title and  the names of its characters. Alfred? Harriet? Really? 

Friday, March 23, 2012

With its Creepy Subject Matter, ‘Games’ is Still Engaging

Jennifer Lawrence stars as 'Katniss Everdeen' in THE HUNGER GAMES.
Murray Close 

I admit it. I am probably the only person who hasn’t read “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins, so I had somewhat of a disadvantage watching the preview screening. While the movie’s sets are beautiful, the acting
  very good and the story engaging, I still struggle with the idea that creating a story where children battle against each other to the death. I’ve been reassured from those that have read the books that by the trilogy as a whole have a redeeming value, but when I left the theatre, I wasn’t sure what to think.

“The Hunger Games” is a fairly simple story to understand even without reading the books. The time is a little into the future where North America is now ruled by the nation of Panem and has been divided into 13 sections. Because of an uprising of District 13 years earlier, the government decided that the rest of the sections needed a lesson to keep the remaining 12 in line. So, Panem issued a new competition, The Hunger Games where two children from each district are picked by lottery to represent their section as “tributes.” Since there can be only one winner, all the children fight each other and try to survive in a wilderness area that is controlled by the government.

When Katniss’s sister is chosen to fight, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) offers herself to take her sister’s place. She is paired up with a male candidate, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), that just so happens to be infatuated with her. Even though they both represent their territory, they still are forced to hunt down each other.

Before the big event, the two are whisked away on a luxury train to the Panem center where they are mentored by a drunken former champion, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and put on a national televised show to talk to Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) a talk show host. Then, the pair will face 22 other candidates with a variety of weapons to use on each other while the rest of the nation watches on giant screens and televisions in their home.

As with the Harry Potter films, the younger cast is surrounded by more seasoned actors including an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, a clueless yet patriotic member of Panem, Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the game’s creator and Donald Sutherland as President Snow.

“The Hunger Games” starts at a slow pace at the beginning and takes a while for the story to speed up, but when it does, it is quite engaging and not very predictable – provided that you haven’t read the book first. I suspect that if you are a fan of the books, you will be a fan of the movies as well. Let’s just hope that Lionsgate will continue to provide a good storyline and strong production values with the next installments.


October Baby is the Teen Angst Film You Want Your Kids to See

In OCTOBER BABY, Jason (Jason Burkey) and Hannah (Rachel Hendrix)
find the truth about Hannah’s birth, the power of forgiveness,
and something more. 
Provident Films

You wouldn’t expect “October Baby,” a film that deals with the subject of abortion, to be very enjoyable, but this little film has some big surprises. First, while abortion is the basis for this story, it isn’t really what “Baby” is all about. It’s a road trip movie. It’s a romance. It’s a movie about family, friendship, forgiveness and healing. It’s the one teen angst movie that you would be happy for your kids to see.

“October Baby” is about Hannah (Rachel Hendrix), a college freshman and inspiring actress who begins to struggle with a strange illness involving asthma and seizures. After a series of events, Hannah discovers the shocking truth that she was adopted and that she was a survivor of a botched abortion attempt.  With the help of a childhood friend Jason (Jason Burkey), she goes on a road trip to find her biological mother. To complicate things further, Jason has a girlfriend and Hannah’s over-protective father, Jacob (John Schneider, “The Dukes of Hazzard”) doesn’t trust him.

Hannah is played by Rachel Hendrix in her first starring role in a feature film, but you would never know it. She is beautiful as she is talented; she could almost pass for Anne Hathaway’s sister. Her expressions are spot on. Her repo ire with her co-stars looks and feels very natural. Schneider is especially good as Hannah’s father. He is a strong man who holds secrets. He will do anything to protect his daughter, but by trying to protect her, he manages to harm her further. Jasmine Guy (“A Different World”) plays a nurse with a very nice monologue, but it would have been great to see more of her.

Though this is a faith-based film, it is neither religious nor preachy. The writing is surprisingly good. Even with such a heavy subject matter, the film has a number of lighter scenes with good humor. Most of the characters in the film are playing Christians, but none of the lines or scenes feels forced or phony. There is one great scene where Hannah and Jason end up in hotel room together, with only one bed. Jason does the honorable thing by picking the floor, but the two feel so uncomfortable with the situation, that they end up sleeping in the lobby.

“Baby” starts out strong, starts to lag a bit in the middle and then ends on a very sweet and tearful note. At least on my part. The story has just enough mystery in it to keep it fresh. Overall, “Baby” is a fine discussion starter for you whole family.

“Baby is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material. The producers of OCTOBER BABY have assigned 10% of the profits of the movie to the Every Life is Beautiful Fund, which will distribute funds to frontline organizations helping women facing crisis pregnancies, life-affirming adoption agencies, and those caring for orphans.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Holy Rollers Movie Will Mess with Your Head

Life is so much easier if you only see things in black and white. Take gambling for instance. Many Christians would agree that gambling, as a whole, is not a good thing. Casinos are designed to have the odds stacked against you when you visit. Many of us were raised with the notion that they were just plain evil. So, imagine a group of Christians who visit those dens of Iniquity on a regular basis…and win.

Filmed over two years, “Holy Rollers: The True Story of CardCounting Christians” follows the “Church Team,” a group of pastors and church-planters who mastered the “art” of card counting. By learning how to decipher how many cards have been played and which ones vs. how many are left in the deck, the Church Team basically leveled the playing field and beat the casinos at their own game.

“Holy Rollers” follows the highs and lows of one of the largest blackjack teams in the country: winning streaks, devastating losses, questioning their integrity and even the possibility of a team member stealing from the group. Through it all, I struggled with it. Was it okay for them to gamble? Was it okay if they won? Was it okay if they lost? Was it okay when they dressed up in disguise? Was it okay when they got kicked out for being card-counters? In the end, I’m still not sure. However, what I appreciate about this documentary, is that group of guys didn’t live by the black and white rules. They lived in the gray so that they would have to rely on hearing from God on whether or not what they were doing was the right thing.

“Holy Rollers” has made the festival circuit and winning a few awards along the way. It’s easy to see why. The story is engaging, the players intriguing and the production values are top notch, but the material is still controversial. There are even a few F-bombs. It is directed by Bryan Storkel and is his biggest project to date. He even learned how to count cards as well, but he kept himself behind the camera while filming. I’m sure that we’ll be seeing more of his work soon.

Not surprisingly, not everyone is a fan of this movie. At a recent screening of the film at the downtown Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one member featured in the movie was invited to a Q and A session after the showing but was later “disinvited” at the last minute. According to The Stranger newspaper, David Drury “suspects it's because his wife Stephanie Drury is an outspoken critic of evangelicals in general and Mars Hill in particular.”

So, now it’s your turn. “Holy Rollers” is now available through video on demand and DVD. Give it a watch and let me know what you think.

Friday, March 16, 2012

‘Jeff’ Shows a Twisted Story of Faith

Jeff (Jason Segel) and Pat (Ed Helms) spy on Pat's wife who they
believe may be cheating on him. 
Credits: Indian Paintbrush
Jeff (Jason Segel) is stuck. He is 30 years old, unemployed, is a Sci- Fi fan, does drugs and lives with his mother. He isn’t alone though. Ever since his father died about 15 years earlier, his brother and mother are stuck as well. His mother Sharon, (Susan Sarandon) has dated a few times, but nothing serious and is lonely. His brother Pat (Ed Helms) thinks of himself as mature, but would rather buy a new car than work on his marriage with Linda (Judy Greer). By the end of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” all will be un-stuck.

Jeff is portrayed as simple-minded believing that everything happens for a reason and is waiting to find his destiny. He receives a phone call from someone looking for Kevin and feels that this is a sign. Could it really be a sign or is it just the marijuana talking? On this same day, it is Sharon’s birthday and would like nothing more than her son to get off the couch, buy some wood glue and fix the decorative kitchen shutter. To make sure that he does it, she enlists in the help of Pat to nag his brother to do this task. From what starts as a simple story, the planets line up or perhaps it is just a series of coincidences that happen to complicate things. Jeff runs into Pat while looking for the mysterious Kevin, Pat runs into Linda who is with a mysterious man and Sharon discovers that she has a mysterious secret admirer.

Though, not on purpose, “Jeff” could take as an allegory for walking in faith as a Christian. At one point, Pat tells Jeff that he wishes that he could be more like him. He doesn’t understand Jeff’s faith. Sometimes Christians wander around like Jeff waiting to hear from God on what to do next. Sometimes we do things that seem crazy to those around us. Sometimes we hear from God, sometimes it maybe be just the pizza we ate at 3 a.m. talking to us. Faith takes trust. Pat can’t see beyond himself and is unhappy. Jeff assures him that he isn’t happy either as he waits to find his destiny. Many Christians can relate to that message as well.

“Jeff” is an odd movie. Many of the characters go to work, but none of them do any actual work. Though it is Sharon’s birthday, her children don’t seem to notice or care. None of the characters seem to know how to talk to each other. Though everything wraps up in the end, the film feels incomplete. The main story is about the two brothers. Sarandon’s side story, is strange and isn’t necessary to the main story.

“Jeff” is a good film. Not great, but good. The first half is very funny while the second half, while still funny, tries a little too hard to be sentimental. Still, if you can get past all of the f-bombs, and the worldly nature of the film, it is quite enjoyable.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ashley Judd is One Tough Mother

MISSING - ABC's "Missing" stars Sean Bean as Paul Winstone,
Ashley Judd as Becca Winstone, Cliff Curtis as Dax, Adriano Giannini
 as Giancarlo, Nick Eversman as Michael Winstone and
Tereza Voriskova as Oksana. 
  • “I am not CIA. I am a mother looking for her son.” That’s not a line you hear every day, but then again, it’s not every day that Becca Winstone loses her son. And Becca Winstone isn’t an ordinary mom.
ABC’s “Missing” is the new spy thriller action adventure which appears to be a cross between the former ABC show, “Alias” and Liam Neeson’s movie, “Taken.” At the beginning of the pilot, everything appears to be rosy for the Winstone family. Becca (Ashley Judd) is out jogging and thinking that it is time to add another child to the family. Little Michael is on vacation with his CIA agent father, Paul (Sean Bean, "Game of Thrones"). Everything is so rosy in fact, that you just know that it’s not going to last very long. And it doesn’t. In about two minutes into the program, Michael witnesses his father’s death.
As the commercials promise, Michael goes “missing” in just a couple of weeks on his new venture and Becca imagines the worst. In no time at all, she is flying to across the globe, meeting up with people she knew a long time ago and having to relive the life she left behind years earlier.Fast forward 10 years, and Michael (Nick Eversman) is now 18. He is given the opportunity to study abroad and Becca reluctantly agrees to let him go. The dialogue is still syrupy sweet with Michael telling his mom, “you don’t need to protect me anymore” and she replying that she is his mother and she will always protect him. At first blush, it appears that Michael is a momma’s boy, but what he doesn’t know is that not only was his father a CIA agent, but so was his mother.
With exception to some cheesy lines, Judd is excellent in this role and makes it quite clear that the bad people have messed with the wrong mother. The show if full of action and mystery and ends on a cliff-hanging note. It will be interesting to see if the cast and crew can keep this momentum up every week. It’s not clear if the show will have an procedural element to it or if each episode will be treated like a chapter in a book. Hopefully, the latter. NBC’s short-lived series, “The Firm,” tried to do both and it didn’t work out so well for them.
The pilot of “Missing” was a great ride and has me looking forward to next week’s episode. It certainly has the “girl power” factor, but is has more than that. Judd is also in her mid 40’s and she is a mother. I can’t remember another show with that same combination.
Missing” airs Thursday, March 15 on ABC at 8:00 p.m., but don’t confuse it with a family show. It’s pretty violent for that time slot.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Snow White: Which Version Will be the Fairest of Them All?

Written in 1812, the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale Snow White is not only one of the most well-known stories of all time, it is also one the best examples of good vs. evil. Everything about Snow White suggests purity. Everything about the queen suggests evil. (It doesn’t help that in most cases she is referred to as the “evil queen.”)

This year, at least three different movie production companies are coming up with three new versions of the classic tale and all are competing to be the fairest version of them all.

Copyright Vision Films
“Snow White: A Deadly Summer”
This one somehow slipped under the radar. It is scheduled to be released straight onto DVD, Digital Dowload and OnDemand on March 20, 2012, but is the least known of the three. It is also said to be the least “Snow Whitiest” of the three. In this story, a troubled teenage age Snow (Shanley Caswell – whoever that is) is caught in a web of lies and deceit when her stepmother (Maureen McCormick – yes – the original Marsha Brady) and father (Eric Roberts – and brother to Julia) send her to a discipline camp. This one looks dreadful and possibly shot on someone’s cell phone.

(Left to right.) Julia Roberts and Lily Collins star
 in Relativity Media's Mirror Mirror. 
Photo Credit:Jan Thijs.© 2012 Relativity Media.All Rights Reserved. 
“Mirror Mirror”
This is the one I am most excited to see. “Mirror Mirror” stars Lily Collins (“The Blind Side”) as Snow, Julia Roberts as the queen, Arnie Hammer, Nathan Land and Sean Bean. The studio, Relativity Media, just released a hilarious teaser video on YouTube this weekend about the Evil Queen surfing the web to find the best way to win over the handsome Prince and get rid of the beautiful Snow White. “Mirror Mirror” arrives in theaters on March 30, 2012 and in my humble opinion, looks like the frontrunner. I can’t wait to see Ms. Roberts in an evil role.

Copyright Universal Studios
“Snow White and the Huntsman”
Next is “Snow White and the Huntsman” which has received a lot of buzz and looks like it will less traditional and more serious in tone. The Universal Studios production is from Joe Roth, the producer of the recent “Alice in Wonderland” movie. In fact, the promotional materials like incredible similar to “Alice.” This one stars “Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart, who is popular but not known for her great acting. This time the queen will be played by Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) will play the Huntsman. Sam Clafin also joins the cast. This action/adventure is scheduled for release on June, 2012.

So – which one do you think will win for fairest version of them all?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

GMC’s First Feature-Length Comedy: Brother White

Copyright: Pure Flix Entertainment/GMC

This Sunday, March 11, the GMC network will be present “Brother White,” an original GMC World Premiere Movie. This will be the network’s first original feature-length comedy and hopefully, not its last.

I got a chance to preview the movie this week and I have to say, that I liked what I saw. “Brother White” is a fish out of water story about a “white” pastor who moves his family from southern California to a “black” church in Atlanta, Georgia.

David A. R. White (TV’s “Evening Shade” and the recent “Me Again” release) stars as James White who is only one of dozens of associate pastors longing to make the stage at a mega church located in Beverly Hills. He serves under television evangelist Johnny Kingman (Ray Wise of “Twin Peaks”) and is forever disappointing him. After a mishap on stage, James is sent packing and accepts a position as head pastor at a very small, very “black” church. His family, (real life wife, Logan White, Anna Margaret and Gibson Sjobeck) are not happy with the move and the congregation of Divine Faith Apostolic Church isn’t either.

Pastor White is aided by Deacon Hill (Reginald VelJohnson, “Family Matters”), Veena Johnson the choir director (Jackee from TV’s “227”) and tasked with saving the church as well as the neighbors surrounding it. Grammy Award-winner Bebe Winans makes a special appearance as well.

“Brother White” is a smart, non-preachy, Christian comedy. The beginning is a little over-the-top poking fun at TV preachers and rich Christians, but becomes more heart-warming and realistic as it moves on. David White may be the star, but Jackee steals the show. Nobody can roll their eyes quite like her. There is a great scene where Lily, the pastor’s wife, is helping the “quiet as a mouse” church secretary discover her inner beauty and her loud voice. There are themes of redemption and forgiveness with just a hint of cheesiness, but it is a comedy after all.

“Brother White” is produced by Pure Flix Entertainment and is one of their best movies so far. It will be presented on Sunday, March 11 at 7 p.m., 9 p.m., Monday, March 2 at 9 p.m., and Friday, March 16 at 9 and  p.m. on the GMC network. (All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter is a New Hero for Sci-fi Fans Everywhere

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Dejah Thoris and John Carter
Frank Connor/Disney
One of the most refreshing aspects of Disney’s new release, “John Carter,” is that it isn’t a sequel and is totally original. Hollywood has been trying for decades to make this movie, but this is the very first big screen adaptation of the story.

“John Carter” is based on the book, “A Princess of Mars,” written in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, better known for his other big story, “Tarzan.” In “Mars,” Burroughs is a character in the story as well. He is apparently the nephew of Captain John Carter who was an American civil war veteran. The movie opens with Burroughs discovering that Carter has left a diary for him to read about Carter’s adventures on Mars.

While looking for gold in the Arizona mountains, Carter, (Taylor Kitsch), find some mysteriously markings on the wall and soon finds himself transported to the planet Mars otherwise known as Barsoom by its inhabitants. He soon discovers that he has gained great strength and can leap huge distances due to the planet’s lesser gravity.  Carter meets Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), one of the Thark chiefs – tall, green, skinny natives who are battling the red humanoid red Martian race. They capture the beautiful Dejah Thoris, (Lynn Collins), a warrior princess of Helium. Carter rescues her and finds himself in the middle of the planet’s own civil war.

I wasn’t very excited to see this picture, but was pleasantly surprised when I did. It is reminiscent of “Star Wars,” “Avatar” and even “Cowboys vs. Aliens.” It’s classic good guys vs. bad guys. It’s a good action flick with some good humor as well. There is a running joke about Carter trying to explain that he is John Carter from Virginia, but the aliens think his name is Virginia. A theme I appreciated in the movie is that when Carter first arrives to Mars, all he wants to do is go home. The aliens are impressed with his super abilities and want him to fight for them, but he refuses to fight for anyone but himself. However, he later decides to give of himself for the good of others.

“John Carter” features great scenery and exciting explosions but the 3D wasn’t impressive. While the Carter and Thoris are easy on the eyes, but the movie doesn’t explore their personalities and doesn’t develop their characters much. The movie runs long and each time you think you’re near the end, there is another chapter to go through. Overall, it wasn’t my cup of espresso.

“John Carter” may or may not become popular with the masses, but, I believe the perfect audience for this film will be that of hardcore sci-fi lovers. And Martians.

Oscar Nominated ‘In Darkness’ Shines a Light in the End

Leopold (Robert Wieckiewicz) holds up a little girl out of a man
hole to breath fresh air for the first time in many months.

Sony Pictures Classics

If you have a fear of tight spaces, the dark or rats, you might want to skip seeing “In Darkness.” This award-winning and Oscar nominated film for Best Foreign Film, is difficult to watch and yet gives the viewer another perspective of the effects of Hitler and World War Two.

In 1943, Lvov, Poland was overtaken by Nazi soldiers. Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) is a sewer worker who knows every tunnel like the back of his hand. As he struggles to make enough money to live on for his family, a Ukrainian officer offers Leo a way to make more money – finding Jews. In no time at all, he finds a group of Jews, but they offer him money if he will protect them. He agrees and places them deep within the sewer system. Each week the group pays Leo a sum to buy food and other necessities for the hidden people. This goes on for a total of 14 months and this small group must learn how to cope living in such horrendous circumstances. For Leo, it is a long journey as well. He struggles with this group’s “demands” and is tempted to just leave them behind. However, what begins as just a way to make some money turns into a deep friendship with “his Jews.” He eventually tells his wife of this new venture and she thinks he is a fool for putting her and their daughter in danger. Soon though, she too develops a love for this group of people that she has never met. Leo is sort of a reluctant good Samaritan.

In addition to Leo’s story, we get a glimpse into the lives of the people in hiding. The small group includes a loving and strong couple with a sister who panics underground, two small children, and a man who openly cheats on his wife with another woman. This group has new rules on how the operate and communicate with each other. They have to function as a team, ration food as needed, and help to keep each other warm. We see their initial utter disgust and fear of the vermin living in the sewer and how it winds down into a minor irritation. We see how the older generation tries to encourage the younger with crayons and storytelling.

The film is full of difficult imagery and heart-warming scenes including one when Leo is able to find a menorah and matzo bread so that “his Jews” can celebrate the Passover. This celebration takes place at the same time that Leo’s daughter is baptized at his own church. The climax of the film involves Leo risking his own life to save the others’ lives with just enough excitement to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you can sit through this picture, there is big redemptive payoff at the end.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

ABC Takes a Chance on 'GCB'

From left, Miriam Shor, Kristin Chenoweth, and Jennifer Aspen 
are shown in a scene from "GCB". (ABC)

The latest controversial show of 2012 just aired its first episode Sunday night, March 4. Kristen Chenoweth’s new show, “GCB,” (short for “Good Christian Belles” or “Good Christian…rhymes with witches”) and is already ruffling feathers. Chenoweth herself told "The Bible tells us that we're not supposed to judge, and people shouldn't judge before seeing the show. I'm a Christian, I think that's pretty well known, and I would never do anything that I think crossed the line." Some may wonder which line she is referring to.

After watching “GCB” myself, I can appreciate both sides. In some ways, it is sort of a modern version of the old Barbara Eden sitcom, “Harper Valley PTA.” In that show, poor Barbara was judged regularly by members of the local school’s PTA. Thinking that she was an unfit mother, the PTA was usually the one that ended up looking bad in the end. In “GCB,” Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bigg) is in a similar situation. First, the widow discovers that her rich husband was not only having an affair, but that he was a criminal as well leaving her and her kids penniless with nowhere to go except to move in with her rich mother, Gigi Stopper (Annie Potts) back in Dallas, Texas - smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt.

This is the last place that Amanda wants to be. She had burned a lot of bridges when she left and now she has to eat crow with her former and now judgmental school “friends.” When Amanda was in high school, she was the “mean girl” and the others are not ready to forgive her. Ironically, they all go to the same church.

Amanda has changed over the 18 years. After bottoming out with a rotten marriage, she is now sober, conservative and wants the best for her children. But her former classmates aren’t willing to give up their bitterness just yet.

GCB is a classic case judgmental Christians at their worst. They know their bible verses, they would never miss a day of church and they always say the “right” things, but none of them are really living the Christian life. The leader of the group is Carlene Cockburn (Kristen Chenoweth) who appears to have a solid marriage, sings in the church choir makes the other women do her dirty work for her. Cricket, a corporate CEO (Miriam Shor) is married to Blake (Mark Deklin) who is a closeted homosexual. Sharon (Jennifer Aspen) used to be skinny but now struggles with her weight and is constantly eating. Her husband, Zack is an active cheater. Heather (Marisol Nichols) is a single real estate agent and seems to regret being angry with Amanda, but is under the “reign” of Carlene. The four of them make life miserable for Amanda even going so far as to keep the local townspeople from hiring her. The only job Amanda can find is a “Hooters-inspired” restaurant.

It will be interesting to see where this show goes from here. If the storylines can bring some of the characters to true repentance, then I think the show may have some merit. If its goal is to only trash Christians, then it isn’t worth much. But I don’t think that is what the writers have in mind. Hopefully, the program can show the difference between being a hypocrite and being a true Christian. As of right now though, it is racy and bound to make a lot of church-goers squirm in their seats. That isn’t necessarily bad though. As Christians, we need to re-think our faith and truly question “what would Jesus do” on a regular basis. Perhaps this show is the slap in the behind that we need.

If you missed the episode, watch the video clip. It will give you an idea on how far the rivals will go to find dirt on Amanda and you can see how Amanda tries to run from any appearance of evil.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Lorax message film isn’t preachy

The Lorax (Danny DeVito tells the Once-ler (Ed Helms)
about the dangers of chopping down trees.
Photo: Universal
It is my firm opinion that Dr. Seuss stories shouldn’t be made into full length films. Typically, you can read a Dr. Seuss book in ten minutes. Trying to stretch ten minutes of material into an hour and a half is pretty tough. A half hour TV special or theatrical short seems to be just right. I still prefer the original Chuck Jones version of “Horton Hears a Who” over the long version that came out a few years ago, pretty much everyone is a fan of the animated “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” over the Jim Carey movie and don’t even get me started on the “Cat in the Hat” movie. With that said, the new “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” is pretty good.

“The Lorax” is an environmental film, but it isn’t obnoxious. It tells a simple story about what happens when we don’t take care of the world around us. No preaching that trees or animals are more important than people. The movie has a few side messages as well like why it is important to keep your word, standing up to peer pressure and how falling in love with an order woman can get you in trouble.

The story begins in a little town where nothing grows. All plant life is plastic, the neighbors all purchase bottled air and there are no animals.  In this town, a Twelve-year-old boy named Ted (Zac Efron) is head-over-hills with Audrey (Taylor Swift) a high school girl and will do anything to impress her. The thing that Audrey wants the most? To see a real living tree. Ted’s grandmother (Betty White) tells him about the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who lives outside the city walls and could tell Ted what happened to all the trees. Ted eventually finds the Once-ler and he tells Ted about his own adventures many years ago with the Lorax (Danny DeVito), the protector of the forest.

 Half the charm of a Dr. Seuss book is the illustrations and the other half is that the story is told in rhyme. Universal nailed the first half with this movie. It definitely has the look and feel of a Dr. Seuss book and the art looks like it jumped right off the page. Although filmed in “tree-D,” the movie doesn’t need that gimmick. Some of the rhymes from the book made it into the film, but not all and frankly, it would probably get annoying after a while, but I think it could use some more. The movie works best when it follows the story. Any time the writers try to add a “funny bit” not included in the original book, it falls flat. Some characters are too cutesy for my taste, but I don’t think they were thinking of me when they were making this film.

“The Lorax” is also partially a musical and half of the songs are pretty good while a few are pretty forgetful. Ironically, the two voice actors known for singing (Efron, Swift) don’t and an actor not known for his singing (Helms) does – twice. Also surprising is how little the Lorax actually appears in the movie and with DeVito’s voice attached, I was expecting to hear a few more snarky comments from the little guy, but he is more enduring than cranky. Maybe DeVito is softening up?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What is Hollywood Thinking - 'Project X'?

(Center l-r) OLIVER COOPER as Costa, THOMAS MANN as Thomas, 
and JONATHAN DANIEL BROWN as JB in Warner Bros. Pictures' comedy 
"PROJECT X," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Beth Dubber

The following is going to make me sound like an old man, but I think the questions I have are still valid. Why did Warner Bros., the same studio who entertains our children with The Cartoon Network, think that green-lighting the new teen film “Project X” was a good idea?  

In the press release for the new movie, it is described this way: "Project X" follows three seemingly anonymous high school seniors as they attempt to finally make a name for themselves. Their idea is innocent enough: let's throw a party that no one will forget, and have a camera there, to document history in the making… but nothing could prepare them for this party. Word spreads quickly as dreams are ruined, records are blemished and legends are born. "Project X" is a warning to parents and police everywhere.” Doesn’t sound so bad. Anyone remember “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?” The press release also states, “The film has been rated R by the MPAA for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem—all involving teens.”

“Project X” is Director Nima Nourizadeh’s feature film debut, follows the long-tired “lost footage” format and doesn’t boast any star power. Early reviews of the film have been dismal.

While making raunchy teen comedies is nothing new and the world will go on as we know it, I still wonder why a studio as big as Warner Bros. wouldn’t try to be a little more responsible in its programming. Due to increased knowledge of how harmful cigarette smoking is, smoking is rarely seen in movies today. So, why would a studio produce a movie aimed at teens and encourage underage drinking and drugs?

How is it that Warner Bros., who put out the squeaky clean “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” just a few weeks ago, be so dumb? Personally, I thought the film was “so-so” but my teenage sons loved it. As of last weekend, it was still in third place in the top ten movies sales, proving that a movie doesn’t have to be anti-family values to be profitable. Would Disney ever make that same mistake?